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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Bonaventure on angels


- Gabriel, 12th-century mosaic, La Martorana

Here's more about what Bonaventure thought about the nature of angels, from a paper I came across online - The Individuation of Angels from Bonaventure to Duns Scotus by Giorgio Pini.

I think I especially like Bonaventure's way of looking at the issue because, as Wikipedia comments ... In philosophy Bonaventure presents a marked contrast to his contemporaries, Roger Bacon and Thomas Aquinas. While these may be taken as representing, respectively, physical science yet in its infancy, and Aristotelian scholasticism in its most perfect form, he presents the mystical and Platonizing mode of speculation ... I do like Plato - the college Plato seminar I took made a serious impression on me. I still remember the small room with its one table, about 10 of us sitting around it. I remember our kind teacher with his shaggy beard and those sweaters that button up the front. I even remember the green cloth cover of the book and its tissue-papery pages. Wish I remembered as well the stuff about Forms ;)

Here's just the part of the paper about Bonaventure, who thought angels were made up of both form and (non-corporeal) matter, while Thomas Aquinas believed they were instead pure form ....

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The Individuation of Angels from Bonaventure to Duns Scotus
by Giorgio Pini

The individuation of angels constitutes a good example of how an apparently obscure question concerning a specific aspect of Christian theology provided later medieval thinkers with the opportunity to explore some fundamental issues in metaphysics. ...... What accounts for an angel’s individuality? Before Aquinas, the individuation of angels was not singled out as posing a specific difficulty, since angels were not considered to have a deep metaphysical structure different from that of the substances of our everyday experience.

Bonaventure may be regarded as an example of this attitude.8 According to him, every created thing is composed of two constituents, matter and form. For Bonaventure, matter is roughly equivalent to potentiality, while form is roughly equivalent to actuality. At a very general level, that every creature is composed of matter and form is due to the fact that every creature, both with respect to what it is (e.g., a cat or a human being) and with respect to what it does (e.g., purring or thinking), is the result of the actualization of some potentialities that could have remained non-actualized. Things could have been otherwise. For example, it is a contingent fact that this very cat was generated. Also, it is a contingent fact that this cat is actually purring or that this human being is actually thinking; by actually purring and actually thinking, the cat and the human being actualize some powers present in their natures that did not have to be actualized. Bonaventure made this point by saying that every creature is limited and changeable and that these two features can be explained only by positing in any creature two metaphysical constituents that account for its having some potentialities that are not necessarily actualized. These two constituents are matter and form. In this way, Bonaventure contrasted creatures to God, who is the only being that lacks composition.9

Since all creatures have potentialities that are not necessarily actualized (i.e. no creature is a necessary being, since all are limited and subject to change), Bonaventure concluded that all creatures are composed of matter and form.10 This does not entail, however, that any thing composed of matter and form is also composed of quantitative parts (i.e., parts with a certain extension), for Bonaventure carefully distinguished between matter, on the one hand, and extension, on the other hand. Quantity, not matter, makes something extended, i.e., corporeal. Accordingly, some things may be composed of matter and not be extended. This is the case with angels. Thus angels are both material and spiritual, i.e., not corporeal.11

Bonaventure’s position concerning the composition of matter and form in any created thing, angels included, allowed him to give a unitary solution to the problem of individuation for all created things. Even though angels are different in kind from corporeal creatures, they are individuated in the same way, i.e. as a result of their being composed of matter and form. Neither matter nor form, taken by themselves, accounts for the individuality of a certain thing. It is because of their union that a certain individual exists.12

Accordingly, Bonaventure could easily account for the numerical multiplication of angels within the same species. Since it is not an angel’s form that accounts of that angel’s individuation, there is nothing in a certain form that prevents it from giving rise to different individuals by being united with matter several times. But individuals that have the same form are in the same species. Therefore, there can be several angels in the same species. It also follows that in angels, just like in any other creature, there is a difference between, on the one hand, the kind of thing an individual is and, on the other hand, that very individual. As Bonaventure put it, in any individual there is a difference between essence and the supposit that instantiates it. Since the same essence can be instantiated many times, there can be many supposits sharing the same essence.13 ......

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